Amy Smith from Fitch Group spoke to Zoe Schulz from myGwork about learning to accept herself, coming out at work, and what organizations can do to support their LGBTQ+ employees.
Amy describes her teens and 20s as if she was living a double life. Growing up in the 1990s, there were no LGBTQ+ people around her so she turned secretly, to any on-screen representation she could find, quickly becoming enthralled by The L Word and Bad Girls. As she grew older, this led to nights out in Soho, many queer East London friends, and a few girlfriends over the years. Yet she still did this in secrecy, hiding a huge part of who she was, both at work and to her family.
“I struggled for so long to accept who I really was. I did this completely behind the back of my whole family and hometown friends. It was hard but I was so deep in the cover-up I couldn’t see a way out.”
Speaking to Amy today, it’s hard to imagine a time when she wasn’t confidently and authentically herself. She’s now the Associate Director of Global Events for Fitch Group and a proud co-founder of Fitch Pride, the company’s LGBTQ+ network. It’s a business with thousands of employees yet, she says, it feels like a close-knit family with a commitment to diversity and inclusion as one of its core values.
Her journey into her current career hasn’t been the traditional route, having studied drama at university. She explains that she was drawn to the arts as she liked the idea of pretending to be someone else, all while she struggled with her own identity. She then started in recruitment and spent time working in the Mayor of London’s office, before landing a role at Fitch. It’s now been 10 years since she’s been with the organization and before this, she had never been out in the workplace. A combination of the support from her colleagues and their dedication to creating an accepting culture enabled her to finally be her true self with those in her office. She hasn’t forgotten the strain of having to hide who she was and this, in part, drives her dedication to ensure everyone across Fitch has the support and encouragement they need to bring their true selves to work.
“I understand now how important it is to be out at the workplace, to be represented, and to bring your whole authentic self to work. But it hasn’t always been easy for me. In my teens and 20s, during the 1990s, I had hardly any LGBTQ+ people around me. I wasn’t out to my family and I didn’t even know what way my head and my heart were going. It’s so important to be out at the workplace. I would only always want to be more vocal about that and encourage junior colleagues around me.”
After years of hiding who she was, Amy finally realized she needed to be honest with her family. She explains that she was almost 30 years old and had built the moment up in her head for so long. Eventually, she confided in her siblings who reassured her that their parents would accept her. Then, in a panicked WhatsApp message, she came out to her parents who were more than okay with it. “It’s funny how the universe works,” Amy shares “All that worry, I just wish I had done it sooner.”
Finally able to be open about who she is and sharing a huge part of her life with her family was a relief for Amy. Then, for the first time, she was also able to come out at work. With one in five LGBTQ+ people in the UK estimated to not be out to their employer, Amy isn’t alone in struggling to be honest with her colleagues. We spend a significant part of our lives working and having to hide a part of ourselves takes an unnecessary toll on a person’s mental health. As many LGBTQ+ people know, coming out isn’t a one-time event but often a continual dilemma, every time someone new joins the team or you start a new position. The decision to come out is complex, but one that an organization can impact on by creating an inclusive workplace culture. For Amy, the effort that Fitch made to let their employees know that they would be supported and accepted, no matter who they were, made all the difference.
“Fitch was the first-ever company I came out at. I think it was enabled by the people around me. For me, Fitch was always open to understanding people’s needs, creating a happy work-life balance, and an open and fair place to work. It filters down from the CEO, as cheesy as it sounds. It has got to come from the top, but it’s also got to be encouraged by the people around you.”
Being out in the workplace is now non-negotiable for Amy, and she hopes more LGBTQ+ people will feel the same. “If you are in a company where the culture doesn’t let you come out then you are working for the wrong company.”
This, in part, was her motivation for helping to found Fitch’s LGBTQ+ network. She was first nominated by her manager to get involved and, after speaking to heads of other networks, she was enthralled to make Fitch Pride the best it could be. If it had been around 10 years ago, Amy thinks she’d have come out on her first day and hopes it will support other across the organisation in doing so.
The Fitch Pride network has now been around for just over two years with the core aim to broaden awareness of issues that the LGBTQ+ community face and to create an equitable and inclusive environment for those across Fitch. Amy, and the rest of the network, are dedicated to improving their recruitment processes, incorporating best practices for employees, increasing education and resources, and engaging with external networks to grow and learn from one another. And underpinning all of this is a dedication to providing a safe and welcoming workplace for everyone.
Amy is excited to continue to see their global network grow, with a motivation to focus on those in the community who are most marginalized. “We need to see more acceptance for trans people,” she explains, and the network is here to play its role in pushing for this within the workplace.
She’s also committed to being visible, knowing how vital it is to have role models that you can relate to. This came full circle for her when she spoke to LGBTQ+ University students about the importance of being out in the workplace. “I stood there with my heart on my sleeve,” she says, “and explained to them how hard it was to start working in the corporate world and be in the closet. I advised them to pick a company [that] embrace[s] diversity and inclusion.”
No one should have to hide a part of who they are, whether from friends, family, or in the workplace. Amy’s time doing so has only made her more dedicated to ensuring no one else has to. We have reached a point where an organization can no longer step back and say it’s not their responsibility. Fitch group has shown that, when you create an environment that welcomes everyone, your employees will flourish. For a community that spent generations living in secrecy, there is untold power in living authentically.